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A banner in Gaza City showing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during the visit of his intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel. Photo: Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Egypt launched a diplomatic push this week for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the stabilization of the fragile Israel-Hamas ceasefire.

Why it matters: Egypt played a key role in mediating the ceasefire in Gaza and is attempting to use that momentum to recapture its regional role and improve relations with the Biden administration.

Driving the news: Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel made a highly publicized visit to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza on Sunday and Monday for talks on the ceasefire and reconstruction.

  • He met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.
  • Back in Cairo, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry hosted his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, for talks on Sunday — the first visit of an Israeli foreign minister to Cairo since 2008. The Egyptians also chose to give that visit a major public profile.

The state of play: The Egyptians are aligned with the Biden administration on the need to start the reconstruction of Gaza as soon as possible.

  • But Israel has said it won't allow the reconstruction to start without progress on the returning of the bodies of Israeli soldiers and the release of Israeli citizens held in Gaza.
  • Kamel is trying to start a process that will include progress on both issues in parallel in order to soften the Israeli position, sources familiar with the matter say.
  • The rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority poses another problem. Egypt and the U.S. both want the PA involved in the reconstruction efforts, but Hamas rejects that idea and wants to form a nongovernmental body to deal with the reconstruction.
  • What they're saying: “We have a strategic opportunity. The Egyptians told us they want to turn Gaza into Dubai on the shore of the Mediterranean," Sinwar said on Monday.

Between the lines: The reconstruction of Gaza gives Egypt both diplomatic and economic opportunities.

  • Egypt wants Egyptian companies to be in charge of the reconstruction process, Israeli officials say, and has already proposed building plans worth $500 million, with most of the funding coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • That would allow Egyptian companies to benefit and the Egyptian government to monitor the reconstruction and make sure no building materials go to Hamas.

What’s next: Israeli officials say Egypt is also considering closing down its current border crossing with Gaza and opening a new one in Rafah with better monitoring systems to prevent the entry of dual-use goods that can have a military benefit for Hamas.

  • One factor making it harder to reach decisions on reconstruction at the moment is the political uncertainty in Israel, Israeli and Egyptian sources say.

Go deeper

Sep 8, 2021 - World

Afghan evacuation role boosts Qatar in Washington

Blinken (2nd-R) and Austin (L) with their Qatari counterparts Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani (R) and Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty

Qatar played host Tuesday to both Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in a sign of how the Gulf country's role in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has strengthened its standing in Washington.

Why it matters: Qatar became a central partner for the U.S. in the region as it mediated between the U.S. and the Taliban, and Doha was the largest hub of the massive U.S. evacuation effort.

Sep 8, 2021 - World

Despite Biden statement, Israel is a long way from U.S. visa waiver

Passport control at Dulles Airport. Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty

Bennett left Washington with a notable "deliverable": Biden had promised to work toward bringing Israel into the U.S. visa waiver program.

Why it matters: Admission to the program has been an Israeli aspiration for decades. The issue resonates with many Israelis who may have family, friends or business connections in the U.S. but are intimidated by the visa process or put off by the costs.

Sep 8, 2021 - World

Israel prison break sparks riots as manhunt continues

The hole the prisoners escaped from. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images

With the manhunt for six Palestinian prisoners who tunneled their way out of an Israeli maximum-security prison continuing for the third day, riots have been reported at three additional prisons.

Why it matters: The “Shawshank Redemption” style escape turned the six prisoners into heroes in the West Bank and Gaza, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza threatening an escalation if they are harmed. Thousands of police and Israel Defense Forces soldiers are searching for them.